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Mariners Thrown for Loss From Center by Mondesi

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Raul Mondesi reluctantly moved from right field to center to accommodate Gary Sheffield after the May 15 Mike Piazza trade.

Mondesi wasn’t pleased about changing positions because he has won two Gold Glove awards as a right fielder, and center isn’t his favorite place.

But Mondesi is quickly becoming accustomed to his new surroundings.

He threw out a runner at the plate in the seventh inning to preserve a one-run lead Saturday afternoon in the Dodgers’ 10-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

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Mondesi stunned a Kingdome crowd of 49,559 when he threw out Edgar Martinez, who was at second, on a two-out single by Rob Ducey. The assist was Mondesi’s third since becoming the team’s full-time center fielder, and the key defensive play energized his teammates.

Mondesi wasn’t alone in contributing to the victory that moved the Dodgers within a game of .500 at 30-31.

Rookie Paul Konerko had a breakout performance offensively with his first major league home run and four runs batted in. Jim Bruske (3-0) got the Dodgers out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fifth and pitched three shutout innings. And Antonio Osuna earned his second save by working two scoreless innings.

The Dodgers overcame a rough outing by starter Dave Mlicki, who gave up eight hits and six runs--five earned--in his first start as a Dodger after being acquired Thursday from the New York Mets in the Hideo Nomo trade.

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A day after being shut out, 4-0, by three Mariner pitchers, the Dodgers had 10 hits and were aided by four Mariner errors--three by second baseman Joey Cora--that led to four unearned runs.

The Dodgers weren’t sleepless in Seattle on Saturday--and their new center fielder was especially alert.

“Was that throw something or what?” Manager Bill Russell said. “It got there on one hop, and [catcher Charles Johnson] was just waiting for him. You’re not going to see too many more like that.”

Unless, of course, Mondesi is doing the throwing.

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With two out in the seventh, Martinez doubled to right-center against Bruske, and Ducey then singled to center.

Martinez was approaching the bag at third when Mondesi fielded the ball, and Mariner third base coach Steve Smith waved him home. But Mondesi’s throw to Johnson beat the sliding Martinez, ending the inning and leading to a celebration in the Dodger dugout.

“He’s been doing that ever since we moved him,” Russell said of Mondesi, who has started 20 games in center. “He’s been on a mission out there to get another Gold Glove.”

His teammates witnessed the play--but some didn’t believe their eyes.

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“I was trying to get over to cut [the ball] off, and it was by me like someone threw it from second base,” said Konerko, whose sixth-inning leadoff homer gave the Dodgers a 7-6 lead. “That throw was incredible.”

Said pitcher Ismael Valdes: “That was the game right there.”

The Mariners were impressed.

“There are only two center fielders in this game who can make that play, and they were both on this field--ours and theirs,” Mariner Manager Lou Piniella said in reference to Ken Griffey Jr. and Mondesi.

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Russell realized that Mondesi wasn’t keen on moving, but Sheffield’s best position is right. Mondesi opened the 1995 season in center, but the experiment was scrapped after only 24 games, in part, because the center fielder wasn’t having fun on the job.

This time, Russell appealed to Mondesi’s appreciation of history.

“I told him that he could go win a Gold Glove in center like Willie Mays,” Russell said. “I told him that he could do it, and that we needed him out there.”

That convinced Mondesi to change.

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“It’s no problem for me,” said Mondesi, who was hitless Saturday in four at-bats. “Now, I know I’m going to play there every day.”

Russell believes the National League’s best center fielder plays for him.

“I’m selfish, but I’d have to say he is [the best],” Russell said. “I don’t know if anybody is any better.”

*

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* DODGER REPORT: C8


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